Loca Bikes

The gravel bike - a short guide to drivetrains

Gravel bike groupsets have been popping up like mushrooms after the rain recently and we can see that the choice of equipment is still a bit of a challenge for our customers. No wonder - there’s a crazy amount of options out there!

Therefore, we decided to put together a summary. If, for now, you are wondering whether it's better to choose a groupset with one or two chainrings, be sure to read this article. But perhaps you’d prefer for another setup? Let us know! We'll be happy to take on a unique project!

The value of the groupsets presented in this article is an approximation of their recommended retail price, while the weight includes derailleur gears, crankset, shifters with brakes, cassette, and chain.


The gravel bike - 2x10 drivetrains

Loca Bikes Raw Silver with Shimano Tiagra groupset
Loca Bikes Raw Silver with Shimano Tiagra groupset


Shimano Tiagra 4700

We must stress from the beginning - Tiagra is a road groupset, not a gravel groupset like Shimano GRX for example, although it's perfectly suitable for light gravel riding.

Charasteristics:

  • Value - around 570€. The cheapest of the basic groupsets we offer at Loca Bikes.
  • Weight - approx. 2760 g (mechanical disc brakes)
  • No clutch - weaker chain stabilization means that this groupset won’t cope so well on uneven ground
  • 2x10 drivetrain - larger jumps between cogs than in 2x11 groupsets. For example, the sprocket sizes in Tiagra 11-34t look like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-26-30-34, and in Shimano 105 like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23 -25-27-30-34. In the upper range, the differences between successive sprocket sizes are greater in Tiagra. You won’t have as much control over your cadence as the 105.
  • Range - the largest cassette is 11-34t, cranksets are available in 3 variants: 52-36t; 50-34t; 48-34t
  • Brakes - mechanical (a more expensive hydraulic version is also available)

For who:
If your gravel bike is supposed to be more of an endurance road bike, if you’re not interested in going for a 1x11, a narrower gear range doesn't bother you, and if you don't want to contribute more for Shimano GRX, then this groupset will be for you. Its biggest advantage is its relatively low price, with still very good working performance.

Just remember that Tiagra won't perform so well when riding on rough terrain and you won't have access to gears as low as those in Shimano GRX! In exchange, you’ll get chainrings, as big as 52t, which will allow you to accelerate calmly to 60 km/h.


    Shimano GRX RX400
    Shimano GRX RX400


    Shimano GRX RX400

    The entry-level GRX model, which, apart from its obvious gearing limitations, is not that far behind its better siblings.

    Characteristics:

    • Value - about 3000 PLN. The most affordable GRX. It's the cheapest complete gravel groupset with 2 chainrings.
    • Weight - about 2750 g
    • It has a clutch - additional tension and stabilization of the chain ensure perfect operation even in the most difficult terrain
    • 2x10 drivetrain - greater jumps between gears than in 2x11 groupsets. For example, the distribution of sprocket sizes in Tiagra 11-34t looks like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-26-30-34, and Shimano 105 yes: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-25-27-30-34. In the upper range, the differences between successive sprocket sizes are greater in Tiagra. You won’t have as much control over your cadence as the 105.
    • Range - maximum cassette 11-36t, crankset 46-30t. Therefore, with the GRX RX400, you’ll have access to much lower gears than Tiagra, but you won't have access to higher gears. With a cadence of 90 RPM, it’s possible to achieve a speed about 50 km/h in the heaviest gear.
    • Brakes - GRX is only available in the hydraulic version
    • Improved shifter design - provides a very comfortable, secure grip and intuitive braking

    For who:
    If you want a fully-fledged gravel bike, need a wider gear range than a 1x11, but don't want to pay extra for a 2x11 drivetrain, go for the GRX RX400. The clutch will ensure that the chain will work perfectly in all conditions, the comfortable shifters will serve you well even on the longest journeys, and you can spend the money you saved on better wheels, for example. Do you want to know more about the GRX? We prepared a detailed article on it some time ago!


    Loca Bikes Matte Gray with Shimano 105
    Loca Bikes Matte Gray with Shimano 105


    The gravel bike - 2x11 drivetrains

    Shimano 105 R7000

    Like Tiagra, it's actually a road groupset, so if you're riding on tarmac more than in the woods, it may be a good choice for you. For many, it’s a tried and tested groupset with the best price/quality ratio.

    Characteristics:

    • Value - about 860€
    • Weight - about 2570 g - almost 200 g difference compared to Tiagra and RX400!
    • No clutch - weaker chain stabilization means that this groupset won't cope as well on uneven ground
    • 2x11 drivetrain - provides a smaller jumps between cogs than 2x10 drivetrains. For example, the sprocket sizes in Tiagra 11-34t look like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-26-30-34, and Shimano 105 like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-25-27-30-34. In the upper range, the differences in successive sprocket sizes are smaller with the 105. As a result, we’ll have more control over our cadence than a 2x10 groupset.
    • Range - maximum cassette 11-34t, crankset 53-39t, 52-36t, 50-34t. This is definitely road gearing. The smallest ratio you can get with a 50-34 crankset is 1.0. On climbs with a lot of luggage, you'll probably need strong legs!
    • Brakes - hydraulic (a cheaper mechanical version is also available)

    For who:
    The 105 will give you perfect shifting performance, great intuitive braking, and it’s lightweight and durable. All in all, there's nothing you can really fault about it. The only limitations you are likely to encounter with this groupset will be down to its road-like nature. The gear range is aimed at those who have no intention of riding on forest tracks with a gradient of 10. Nor is it helped by the lack of a clutch, which you'll hear for sure when riding on through the forest on root-knotted trails.

    This piece of kit is ideal for all other uses. Bike ultramarathons, rough gravel, or potholes won’t be too scary for it, as many riders have already proven at races like the Transcontinental. Shimano 105 is a great choice if your gravel bike is more of a road endurance bike.

    For 30% gravel and 70% road, Shimano 105 will be perfect. However, if you very often stray into the forest, you'll be better off with another groupset.

    Shimano GRX RX600 2x11

    The big brother of RX400 and probably the best 100% gravel groupset with two chainrings, in terms of quality/price ratio. At Loca Bikes, we pair it with RX800 shifters, which have Servo Wave technology.

    Characteristics:

    • Value - about 920€ - one of the more expensive groupsets
    • Weight - about 2690 g
    • It has a clutch - additional tension and chain stabilization ensure perfect operation even in the most difficult terrain
    • 2x11 drivetrain - provides smaller jumps between cogs than 2x10 drivetrains. For example, the sprocket sizes in Tiagra 11-34t look like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-26-30-34, and Shimano 105 like this: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-25-27-30-34. In the upper range, the differences in successive sprocket sizes are smaller in the 105. As a result, we’ll have more control over our cadence than a 2x10.
    • Range - maximum cassette 11-36t, crankset 46-30t. With a cadence of 90 RPM, it's possible to achieve a speed of around 50 km/h on the highest gear ratio.
    • Brakes - the GRX is only available in the hydraulic version.
    • Improved shifter design - provides a very comfortable, secure grip and intuitive braking

    For who:
    If you’re putting extra gears over the simplicity of a 1x11 drivetrain and aren’t limited by a budget, the RX600 2x11 will be the best option for you. It has everything a gravel bike needs: comfortable shifters, a chain-tensioning clutch, access to low gears, and great brakes.

    Just remember that if you’re used to very fast road rides, you may sometimes run out of gears. Up to speeds of around 50 km/h, you'll spin comfortably at an optimal cadence, but any faster than that, you’ll start to spin like a hamster on a wheel. However, on gravel, this probably won’t be the case.

    Custom Loca Bikes gravel bike with Apex 1
    Custom Loca Bikes gravel bike with Apex 1


    Gravel bike - napędy 1x11

    Sram Apex 1

    The most popular 1x11 drivetrain, and we'll tell you why!

    Characteristics:

    • Value - about 710€. The cheapest 1x11 groupset that makes the most sense. It's definitely our favorite when it comes to this type of drivetrain
    • Weight - about 2620 g
    • It has a clutch - additional tension and chain stabilization ensure perfect operation even in the toughest terrain
    • 1x11 drive - simplicity and no chance of the chain falling off, at the expense of a smaller gear range and bigger gaps between
    • Narrow-wide chainring - Each tooth on the chainring alternates in width (narrow wide narrow wide), fitting precisely to the wide and narrow links of the chain. Paired with the clutch, it practically prevents the chain from falling off.
    • Range - maximum cassette 11-42t, crankset 40t, 42t, 44t. This gear range will be sufficient for most routes. Finer gear gradation obviously suffers but this isn't surprising considering it's a known fact and a downside of 1x drivetrains.
    • Brakes - hydraulic (a cheaper mechanical version is also available)

      For who:
      In fact, for anyone who would like to have a 1x11 drivetrain on their gravel bike. We’re unlikely to find a decent, cheaper groupset of this kind on the market. Apex works effectively, there’s a wide range of cassettes that allows us to have most routes covered, and the components are easy to maintain. 

      The advantage of 1x11 is its simplicity - you don't have to play around by adjusting the front derailleur, you only have one gear lever on the handlebars (besides the brakes), and the chain has practically no reason whatsoever to fall off. Moreover, the cost is very low! You can spend the money you save on upgrading your wheelset, for example. Remember that 1x11 loses to 2x11 in terms of the gradation.


      Alegria - Loca Bikes gravel bike with GRX 1x11
      Alegria - Loca Bikes gravel bike with GRX 1x11


      Shimano GRX RX600 1x11

      The most gravel version of GRX. After all, what other thing is more gravel than 1x11 drivetrains? At Loca Bikes, we pair it with RX800 shifters that have Servo Wave technology.

      Charasteristics:

      • Value - about 860€ - slightly cheaper than its 2x11 counterpart, but still costs quite a lot
      • Weight - about 2521 g
      • It has a clutch - additional chain tension and stabilization ensure perfect operation even in the toughest terrain
      • 1x11 drive - simplicity and no chance of the chain falling off, at the expense of a smaller gear range and bigger gaps between
      • Narrow-wide chainring - Each tooth on the chainring alternates in width (narrow wide narrow wide), fitting precisely to the wide and narrow links of the chain. In combination with the clutch, it practically prevents the chain from falling off.
      • Range - maximum cassette 11-42t, crankset 40t (RX800 still has 42t) - this gives us quite a versatile setup for most gravel routes.
      • Brakes - GRX is only available in the hydraulic version.
      • Improved shifter design - provides a very comfortable, secure grip and intuitive braking

        For who:
        The RX600 is the ideal option for those who dream of a 1x11 drivetrain and would like something from Shimano. In terms of its operation, it's on a similar level to Apex. The shifters are definitely a big selling point for GRX - they’re comfortable as hell! Remember the typical limitations of 1x11 (a smaller gear range and bigger gaps between gears). At 90 RPM, we'll sit around 43 km/h. However, in return, we’ll have fewer cables, do less maintenance, and have a chain that never falls off. An exact comparison of Apex and GRX 1x11 can be found here.

        On our website in addition to fixed gear and city bikes, you can also find the latest range of Loca Bikes gravel bikes. Write to us, we'll happily answer any questions that you have, and what’s more, we'll put a nice bike together for you.

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        About Me

        Loca Bikes is a Wrocław bicycle manufacturer. Since 2016, we have built several hundred personalized bikes, and we can safely say that we know quite a bit about it. As part of the blog, we want to share this knowledge and infect you with our passion for bikes. You will find numerous tips here, as well as articles on cycling culture and history.

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